Something needs to be done about college basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sport and can’t tell you how excited I am to have it back on my television set. But that’s also making me more aware of the issues within the game right now.
The Indiana vs. Kansas matchup Friday had just about everything a basketball fan could ask for. Two top-10 teams playing their season openers on a neutral court — in front of service men and women at Pearl Harbor.
The game went into overtime, with Kansas’ Frank Mason III single-handedly keeping the Jayhawks in the game as he drove to the rim at will. Indiana rained 3 after 3 in what was the most watched game in the Armed Forces Classic’s history.
But 63 fouls were called. The teams combined for 74 free-throw attempts, and seven players fouled out.
This was an intense, high-scoring affair — 103-99 was the final, in favor of Indiana. But seven players fouling out is absurd; Sixty-three foul calls is nonsense.
A few days later, in another marquee early season matchup between the same Kansas team and the Duke Blue Devils — again, two top-10 teams on a neutral court — whistles filled the air at Madison Square Garden. Forty-eight fouls and two foul-outs don’t even do the refereeing justice. Within the opening minutes, Mason was hit with back-to-back offensive fouls, followed by another on Duke’s Luke Kennard. Then, another touch-foul on Mason had his head coach irate, and with good reason.
Luckily, Mason only committed one more foul throughout the rest of the game, allowing him to hit a game-winning jumper in the final seconds to knock of the top-ranked Blue Devils, 77-75.
The problem is, it was tough to make it that far. Both games came down to the wire with every single play more critical than the last, especially in the final minutes. Yet, the nonsense leading up to those crucial closing minutes took longer than Jordan Spieth lining up a putt.
The casual fan becomes annoyed with the constant stoppages in play; it gets boring watching guys shoot free throws for two hours. The frustration intensifies for the die-hard fan.
There was no real advantage or disadvantage for any team in either game. The fouls were split pretty evenly. Although, calling two fouls on Kansas’ best player in the opening few minutes doesn’t help the Jayhawks’ offense. Mason also fouled out late in the Indiana game when his team needed him most.
So the question isn’t really about fair or unfair. It’s about rhythm and, frankly, enjoyment.
College basketball has been blasted with criticism over the last several years for its slow pace of play. Thanks a lot, Virginia.
The game features eight media timeouts — automatic timeouts for commercial breaks — and each team gets four timeouts per half, but three can be carried over from the first to second half. That could honestly result in 18 timeouts in the second half.
And those rules were just recently implemented to increase pace of play.
Throw in 63 foul calls, and you’re in for a long night of watching guys mostly stand around.
The NCAA also switched from a 35-second to 30-second shot clock, again, to speed up the game. That’s all fine and dandy until referees are told to call more hand checks and the dreaded charge.
Seriously, ban charges. It’s the worst call in basketball and has way more cons than pros. I’ve already written about this, and I’ll defend it to my grave.
Eventually, referees will get tired, as well. Coaches will yell and scream until the calls dwindle. We’ll get to March, and refs will swallow their whistle in the heart of the tournament.
There’s no consistency; there’s no real rhyme or reason, either. It’s the NCAA gripping onto its control like it does with every single thing it’s a part of, instead of trusting the referees to just do their jobs.
College basketball is burdened by its pace of play. Until that is fixed — and it begins with calling about half as many fouls as they currently are — fans will gradually pay less and less attention to the sport.
That’s a shame, because we’ve already gotten a taste of March Madness, and it’s only November.